Pica is an eating disorder that leads to persistently hunger for non-food items that don’t have any nutritional benefit.
This disorder can be found in all genders and for all ages. However, its most commonly found affecting small children, pregnant women, and those with developmental disabilities.
Pica Disorder Defined:
Four criteria must be met for someone to be diagnosed with Pica (2):
- The person must have been eating non-food items with no nutritional value for at least one month.
- Craving for non-food items is not part of the normal development stage for the person.
- No cultural practices or social norms associated with eating non-food items are present.
- Patient is pregnent, has a mental disorder, is in danger, or requires additional treatment.
One of the exceptions that don’t diagnose Pica is children under two years of age who are mouthing, a natural developmental stage for two-year-olds. This is when babies are expanding their taste palettes by putting various objects in their mouths.
According to studies, 75% of infants up to 12 months old, as well as 15% of children aged 2-3 years, put non-food items with no nutritional value in their months (3).
What Are The Signs Of Pica?
- Behavioral problems
- Poor nutrition
- Lack of appetite
There is no single test that can help doctors find out if you or your loved ones have the disorder.
But a detailed family history and tests for nutrient/mineral deficiencies can help give the doctor a clearer view of the situation.
In addition, doctors may ask for X-rays to find out what’s inside the person’s stomach and intestines. On the other hand, the blood tests check for anemia, toxins, and other harmful substances.
Risks Associated With Pica:
- Pica is said to occur with other mental health disorders like autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, and schizophrenia (4).
- Some people develop habits that require clinical care, like those who eat needles or light bulbs.
- Eating paint can cause lead poisoning that may result in brain damage and learning disabilities.
- Ingesting some non-food items like pebbles and sand can cause blockages in the digestive tract.
- Sharp or hard objects can cause tears in the intestines.
- Eating dirt can cause infections due to bacteria or parasites, which may cause liver or kidney damage.
Cases Of Pica Found Around The World:
According to the tests conducted by her doctors, vitamin or nutrient deficiencies are not the source of her Pica disorder. Even so, eating rocks is also not part of the norm for her community/society.
In the interview with BBC, she admitted to experiencing constipation and that the doctors having warned her of the health risks. But at the time of the filming of her interview, she had not managed to break off her rock-eating Pica disorder.
In addition to Brenda Naggita, there are many men, women, and children struggling with Pica around the world.
- 10-33% of institutionalized children with mental disorders were found to have the disorder (5).
- Two studies have found that 21.8% and 25.8% of those with intellectual disabilities had the disorder (6, 7).
- Anemia, poor education, and low socioeconomic backgrounds are factors associated with Pica (8).
- 8%, 23%, and 17.5% of pregnant women reported having Pica in Africa, the Americas, and Eurasia, respectively (9).
- A study published in the Handbook Of Clinical Child Psychology shows 4-26% of institutionalized people suffering from Pica (10).
- 10-30% of children aged between 1 and 6 are also said to develop Pica (11).
How To Treat Pica Disorder?
A common cause of this disorder is due to poor nutrition, and the body getting insufficient amounts of specific minerals or nutrients.
Consequently, doctors will often prescribe nutrition supplements to combat the deficiency (12).
In fact, positive reinforcement is effective at conditioning those affected on what they should or shouldn’t be eating.